Certain Adolescent Brains Can't Stop Gaming. That's Good and Bad — Here's Why

Video game addiction might seem rather innocuous compared to a good old-fashioned coke habit, but there's no discounting its potential harm. Just this month, an unnamed Russian man even sued "Fallout 4" developers after a 3-week gaming binge lost him his job, friends and spouse.

In the case of online games such as "StarCraft" or "League of Legends," psychologists refer to the addiction as Internet gaming disorder, identified as a "condition for further study” in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

That's where a new study from the University of Utah School of Medicine and South Korea's Chung-Ang University enters the picture. The researchers employed magnetic resonance imaging on 106 boys ages of 10 to 19 — all of them seeking treatment for internet gaming disorder. The researchers then compared the findings to 80 boys without the disorder to see just how their neural wiring differed.

Interestingly enough, most of the differences in the compulsive gamer brains were beneficial, as the video above explains. Specifically, the researchers observed enhanced coordination between hearing and vision processing networks and the so-called salience network that focuses attention and preps the individual to take answer. That means enhanced reaction time to both real and virtual threats, and an increased ability to focus in on important sense data in a chaotic environment. 

However, it's not all super mushrooms and fire flowers. The researchers warn that this increased neural efficiency might be inseparable from one negative peculiarity of the compulsive gamer mind: increased connectivity between the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and temporoparietal junction. It's the same distinction researchers find in the brains of individuals with schizophrenia, Down syndrome, autism and poor impulse control.

But which came first: the Yoshi or the egg? While this US/Korean study, published in Addiction Biology, is the largest and most comprehensive of its kind, the researchers stress that a lot of work remains. We don't know whether compulsive gaming alters the brain or if the individuals' already unique neural connections just make them that much more susceptible to addiction.